PC Gear

Anybody who wants to do serious gaming needs a serious computer. Does this mean having all the bells and whistles and keeping up-to-date with the “trends” and spending $2000 on a PC? Maybe not. Personally,  it cost me about $1000 to keep my PC up-to-date every two to three years. In general, a PC will become “obsolete” for gaming after three years. It’s always a good idea to check online before upgrading for what is coming and plan upgrades accordingly. Also, don’t change your computer just because a new feature (like USB 3.0) was just released.

Tips to reduce cost:

  1. Build it yourself (or have somebody you know do it for you). It’s not that hard and the manuals and the Internet have examples for the harder parts and lots of review/compare articles.
  2. Never buy the highest grade stuff (not worth the money) and shop online. Manufacturers issue lots of rebate on PC hardware, especially for memory and video cards.
  3. Buy something that corresponds to your needs. If you play mostly older games, you don’t need that $500 video card.
  4. Compare prices between manufacturers. Video cards and motherboards are made by third parties based upon the reference layouts, leading to lots of manufacturers offering the same products, with lots of different prices, and lots of different levels of quality. When possible, pick the “second best,” it usually offers the best quality/price ratio.
  5. Upgrade part by part. You don’t need to change the whole computer every time.  Sometimes adding more RAM will help a lot.
  6. Plan your upgrade, prices only go down anyway …

CPU

2, 3, 4 and now 6 cores. What do I need? Forget about 6 cores for the next 3 years; software and games barely use more than 2/3 cores today. 4 cores are becoming the standard and will be for a while longer. As for speed, I suggest for it to be above 2.5GHz for gaming, and above 3.0GHz for serious gaming. As for the brand, you have two choices: AMD or Intel. I prefer AMD, mostly because they are the best bang for the buck, despite not always winning the “speed contest.” Intel-supported motherboards are usually lots more expensive as well. Also, the AMD AM platform allowed me to save money because I didn’t need to buy a new CPU or motherboard when I was upgrading the other.

Motherboard

While people always talk about the CPU or the video card, the two most important parts of the computer are actually the motherboard and the memory. For the motherboard, there is no reason to go above the $100-120 mark, unless you have special requirements. There are a lot of manufacturers in the motherboard world, my best experiences in the last 15 years have been with Gigabyte and MSI. The chipset needs to support the CPU, so always check that part carefully and look at the manufacturer websites for the right information.

Memory (RAM)

If you run Windows 7/Vista, plan for at least 4GB. Now, with 64-bit OSes, you can have a computer with 8 or 16 GB as well, as long as the motherboard supports it.  Memory can be tricky, so make sure to check if the brand is supported by the motherboards, as well as the speed and type. Also, I haven’t seen the need for above 4GB so far (in terms of gaming), so unless you really feel like it, don’t bother buying that 8GB yet. It’s an easy and cheap upgrade when the need arises (and price are trending down).

Video card

The heart of gaming. With DX11 released, people might feel like it’s time to upgrade. I would say that if you have a DX10-capable video card (generally bought after mid-2008) and that it fills your gaming needs, you don’t have to upgrade just yet. Also, they release “new” cards about every 6 months, which mean the “old” card drops in price in the month following new arrivals.  As for brand, you have two serious choices: AMD/ATI or Nvidia. I don’t really have a preference, although I have been alternating between both for 10 years; it just happened that way for some reason. My next one should be a AMD card at end of the year or the beginning of next year. Keep in mind that it should have at least 1GB of memory, besides that, everything else depends on how good you want your game to look. A $250 card is considered to be the upper level of mid-range, everything above that would be a high-level gaming card.

Power supplies

Finally, a good power supply is required to power all those expensive PC parts.There are a few power supply calculators on the Web; it’s a good idea to use one to see how much power you need. If you don’t have enough power, you can damage your PC components, starting with the motherboard and CPU. As for brands, check reviews and the 80 PLUS certification.

If you have any questions, just leave a comment. It will be my pleasure to try to answer you.

5 thoughts on “PC Gear”

  1. I read a lot of reviews on Tom’s Hardware to figure out what to buy.

    With regard to CPUs and motherboards – it seems like Intel is changing the required socket type EVERY TIME they come out with a new line of CPUs. It pisses me off.

    If you’re going to buy 4gb of ram, then you should run a 64-bit os. Otherwise, only 3gb max can be utilized.

    And cooling!!! I wouldn’t have paid much attention to this before, but this is so important for the super powerful CPUs and graphics cards. It makes the computer run super loud, which really annoys me, but it does provide a little more peace of mind.

    Have you ever tried the more complex cooling setups like circulating water?

    1. Tom’s Hardware also have comparative charts, I use them some times, but you really need to check other online reviews (and users reviews, like at newegg).

      And no, I haven’t tried Watercooling (circulating water), despite my case supporting it. Air fans have done the job for me so far. I did buy a ~$30 CPU fan a few years back though.

      I didn’t talk about cooling, that’s true. I’ll take note and add that to my next column next week. I can say a lot of things about keeping a PC cool.

      1. I never thought about much cooling until I got my new i7 and it was running so hot it freaked me out. I went and got 2 extra fans for the case and now my computer sounds like a cement mixer, but at least I know it’s not overheating horribly.

  2. Thanks for this excellent breakdown! I really appreciate the details you go into regarding each category, as sometimes I just feel completely lost when trying to find new components or a new PC.

    My ‘old’ (2+ years) cube PC decided to go absolutely haywire on me the other day (curse you, motherboard!) so I’ll definitely have good use for this article in the near future :)

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